1980s – present: In contract negotiations, IATSE rank-and-file are like boiled frogs…resulting in contracts that are “family killers.”

With regard to union member passivity, one person I interviewed referred to what he calls the problem of boiling frogs.  [Name withheld pending interviewee approval] always worked before the runaway production took off, “The jobs were there.  We were in demand.  It was a wonderful business to be in, ten to twenty years ago.”  Most IATSE members didn’t pay attention during that time, as, slowly and methodically, their leadership gave away benefits at the bargaining table.  [Interviewee] says, “We were kind of like boiled frogs… If you take a frog and stick it in some lukewarm water, he’ll be happy.  You turn it up a degree, and you turn it up a degree, and if you do it slowly enough, the frog’s not going to realize it’s being boiled until it’s too late.”  [Interviewee’s] report of this “frogboiling” is significant because it is an incremental process (and as such it is never reported in the newspapers), yet it has enormous costs. 

During the second phase of runaway production, although the IATSE leadership did not need to do so, they conceded valuable bargaining points.  In 1988, as was mentioned, before Tom Short became president, President Di Tolla “gave away weekends.”  Weekends were no longer Saturday and Sunday.  IATSE members worked any five days out of seven, which means a film worker might start on a Friday and work until Tuesday. [Interviewee] refers to that as a “family killer,” because all of a sudden, film workers now were on a totally different schedule from their spouses and kids.  Getting work meant they never saw their families.  According to [Interviewee]and others I interviewed, that destroyed many relationships and a lot of families.[1]  When union leadership gave that away, the rank-and-file didn’t know it at that time, because none of them were deeply involved in the negotiations. “We just read the Variety, and like clockwork, every three years, yet another contract was signed.”  They did not get a copy of the basic agreement before it was signed.  They were not consulted in a meaningful way about the desired outcome of negotiations.  And finally they received a copy about a year after it went into effect.


[1] This is consistent with the general findings of sociologists about work, “The way in which a man makes a living and the kind of living he makes have important consequences for how the man sees himself and is seen by others; and these, in turn, importantly shape his relationships with family members, lovers, friends, and neighbors (Liebow 1967:136).”

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2006–There may still be time for the unions…

Not all is lost.  There is still time.  According to [IA member, name withheld pending permission of interviewee] this is how it starts: 

“If the unions got together, we could take care of ourselves.  We could take care of our retirement.  We could take care of our health plan…. We have the ability.  We have the infrastructure to do that.  We’re just not utilizing it.  We’re not using it wisely. … If we could do that … as a nation, it would be great.  But we’ll never achieve that.  This nation’s going to go down the tubes long before that ever happens … But I think if you start with a small thing like Local 600 or the IA – you know, 1,000, 1,200 members – and if you can make the system work there, it will work anywhere.  And it’s a lot easier to make it work on a small level than it is a big one.”

My dissertation research suggests that for this to work, the unions locally and eventually as a global group will have to stand together against the multinational corporations.  The unions’ basic starting argument is:  “We have been making films for over seventy years, and we know what we’re doing.  You bought this company without knowing anything about filmmaking.  Your scheduling has to respect the flesh-and-blood needs of human beings.  We are not machines.  You are no longer allowed to use illegal subsidies to finance your films, and kill our livelihoods and our art.   Despite the fact that the eight-hour-day was won decades before, we are willing to concede, because of filmmaking’s special needs, a work day no longer than twelve hours.  In addition, we demand twelve hours off for every twelve hours we work.  No more use of artificial fog.  Rather than killing us with it, you can generate fog on a computer in post-production.  No more helicopters.  It is not worth human lives to use them.  You can generate helicopter-like effects by computer, too.  You’ll be surprised to find that your films will be better (though you don’t care about that), and will make more money, overall….

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2007–“Greed alone cannot innovate” Runaway Production hollows out the labor force, film content, and contributes to hollowing out America’s middle class

Runaway production, by costing the United States billions of dollars in revenue and tens of thousands of jobs does not just hollow out the Hollywood labor force, it also contributes to the ideological hollowing out of film content, and the general hollowing out of America’s middle class [as demonstrated in the dissertation].  As such, it undermined this democracy’s power to fight the voracious power of corporate conglomerates.  The bureaucracy of democracy, however flawed, is preferable to the bureaucracy of totalitarianism, which does not value the dignity and diversity of the many. When capitalism’s current avatars, the multinational corporations, own the studios, the vision of possibility changes and creativity loses.  We all lose.  Even capital.  As Richard Florida put it, “greed alone cannot innovate” (Florida2007:76). Rather, he found democratic values, “openness, tolerance, self-expression as sources of economic growth” (Florida2007:75).

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2006 — Are there Positive Aspects of Runaway Production? Nope.

            I wonder if there are optimistic possibilities embedded in the changes this project has documented.  If you’re building a labor force in Canada, in Australia, in Botswana, you’re building sound stages, and a more multicultural workforce.   If you are “seeding” a new industry, you might also be building the possibility of different world views being produced, and, maybe a greater, more democratic world in the long haul.  When I suggested this to [a film worker and long-time IA member, name withheld pending permission from interviewee], he said, “I am hoping that what we’re feeling now is some kind of a growing pain, that I just can’t see beyond the pain part of it … the pain that says everything you thought your life was going to be ten years ago, five years ago is wrong, and you’re going to lose everything.”  Looking beyond that, he continued:

“But it was a birthing process [laughter]. Now, isn’t it great that we’re not just going to have X Men 3 followed by X Men 4 followed by X Men 5?  There [are] going to be great movies made all around the world, and you’ll have access to those wonderful French comedies you used to love that you can’t find any more.  Then, okay, great.  But I’m not seeing the corporate model as having the slightest interest in art or information.  And what it seems to be – especially if you look at Clear Channel and Fox – they don’t really want you to have any information that’s not favorable to them “([Name withheld pending permission from interviewee, interview 2006).

 

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1940s Break up of the Feudal System, I mean Studio System, and the paradoxical end of the Golden Age of Hollywood

Paramount Decisions

The Supreme Court’s “Paramount decisions” of the 1940s receive much credit for the breakup of the studio system.  There were other factors.  In 1936, movie star Bette Davis, who had been offered yet another unattractive part by Warner Bros. and was tired of feeling like “an assembly-line actress,” moved to Great Britain.  She was sued by Warner Bros. and she lost.  Though she had to go back to the assembly line, her courage inspired others.  In 1944, movie star Olivia de Havilland won her case in the Supreme Court against Warner Bros. and was freed from her contract.  The contract system, which for many studio employees was a kind of slavery, had been dealt a “mortal blow” (Prindle 1988:177). By the late 1940s when the Supreme Court made the Paramoun tdecisions, which broke up the vertically integrated oligopolic hold the studios had on the motion picture business by ordering the studios to divest themselves of their theaters, Hollywood was changed.

The studio system was devised by immigrants from Eastern Europewho had not been born in egalitarian societies (Berg 1989).  Perhaps in part because of this, they created a factory mode of production which had many aspects in common with the feudal system.  Even though many of the studio system movies were great, the fall of the studio system was often celebrated by workers as a release from slavery.  However, in addition to the losses sustained by the studios as a result of the Paramount decisions, there were losses to the film workers.  The studio system in many cases provided a constancy of studio employment which the later irregularity of independent production, and of location shooting would not.  At the studio, the place and people had a certain consistency, despite changing projects.  Each location shoot is subject to the particular mania of those in charge, with new crew, and the unexpected incidents inherent in filming in an unknown place.

It is too simple to claim that, like proverbial monkeys at a typewriter, if the studios produced enough films (and many studios turned out one a week), they were bound to make a good one once in a while.  For all the studio heads’ colorful and abusive complaining, those turbulent years when progressive film makers still could work easily in Hollywood, and the slave-like conditions under which many workers toiled, made possible the so-called golden years of American film making.

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1955: Hollywood blacklists and muffles democratic values; movies get worse; public seeks other entertainment …

In the movie industry, by 1955, 106 writers, 36 actors, and 11 directors testified, took the Fifth Amendment and then were blacklisted (Prindle 1988:61).  HUAC and the industry did not stop there.  The persecutions, with the studio executives’ active help, had the effect of silencing not just communist voices, but also liberal voices in American moviemaking.  There was also a cost to the content of films after progressives had been “purged” from the ranks of Hollywoodworkers, in part through the crushing of the CSU, in part with the help of the Taft Hartley Act and in part through HUAC.  According to actress Karen Morley, who was blacklisted,

“Movies just got worse. Movies have always been fairly violent but in the old days writers tried to express human values.  They tried, for example, to explain why a kid turned violent—he had been poor, his family was wretched, his boyhood was terrible.  There was a motivation other than just evil.  The violence had to be motivated sensibly.  This was a streak, I believe, of progressive thinking.

“All that kind of treatment pretty much went by the board during the blacklist.  Now violence became an art, a cult, and with it came the passive women.  The beautiful, strong ladies went away, and the weak, beautifully built women took their place, actresses chosen more for their figures than for their faces or for their characters…  The passivity is what I found most distressing” (McGilligan and Buhle 1997:478).

There are many reasons, during the next few years, that Americans turned away by the millions from the motion picture cinemas and sought entertainment elsewhere (many of these reasons are discussed in the next dissertation).  Here is another: when Hollywood muffled its democratic and progressive voices, the films may have lost a quality that made many people want to see them.

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1940s-1960s You asked. Hollywood: Both anti-Communists and pro-Communists feared the same totalitarian nightmare.

I believe that those thinking people who feared communism and those thinking people who were sympathetic to communism’s possibilities mostly did (and do) not speak to each others’ concerns.  Those who feared communism considered what in practice Russia and China had done in the name of communism and wanted to prevent that in the United States.  Some were willing to go to any lengths to do so.  Those thinking people who considered the positive possibilities of communism saw that communism in theory offered more egalitarian opportunity.  Each group saw the other as hopelessly dangerously misguided.  The two sides had in common that they were trying to avoid the totalitarian nightmare.  The Right wing saw it in China and Russia and feared its implementation here.  The Left wing saw it in the Right wing.  A benefit to the studios of this debate and the conflagration around it was that it divided and distracted the labor movement from their common cause.

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